THROUGH EACH BRICK WALL IS A NEW BEGINNING
December 12, 2010
Breaking through brick walls occurs in all stages of research. The purpose of a three/four generation genealogy is to find documented and interesting information on the life of a particular couple, their children, and their grandchildren from childhood through their adult years and finally death. The fourth generation requires only the names of the children in the household of the grandchildren’s families. The next step is to collect evidence to give the reader enough information so they feel acquainted with the subject. This step leads me to search other records to penetrate this brick wall.
That day I found the couple James A. Burns and Nancy J. Burns, I had no ideal of the hours I would spend three years later trying to find out their living history to add to what I am compiling on the Burns family. How exactly did this couple from Cooke County fit into my Burns family? What was their story?
I recorded the source of the records and I made a few quick notes. This saved time later. After all, I was searching a different family at the time and I did not want to be derailed that day. Later I found the couple was the key to a missing piece of information for my three/four generation genealogy. James A. Burns was a grandson of the elder John Burns.
The notations and sources of court records I made three years before proved invaluable. I found James on the 1860 and 1870 census. I lost him on further census searches. Next step was to examine Cooke County court records, again. I knew he remained in the county and probably died sometime before the 1880 census because I found records of his land being sold by the probate administrator of his widow’s estate. I did not find a cemetery record of his burial, or an obituary printed in a local paper. In earlier years, I did not find adequate information about the couple in the massive collection of probate records. Remember, I did not spend much time on this person at the time because I was unaware that he was a relative. After learning he was related, I justified searching those records. This gave me the opportunity to add the life and times of James A. Burns to my growing family history project.
I read probate minutes, the loose papers, and the appointment of guardianship, intestate estate files, inventories, and such. These records gave me the entire story of the unexpected events in one man's life from 1877 until five years after his death. James A. Burns and his wife Nancy were both young when they died—both in their early 40s.
On the 1870 federal census James was a farmer with real estate worth $5,200 and personal worth of $6,000. The court declared him incompetent in January 1877. James was an epileptic and an alcoholic—his favorite beverage was whiskey and gin, and something called wizard oil, or snake oil, used for treating colds and arthritis. At least three times James broke furniture in saloons and hotels. I know this because I found compensation receipts for these acts paid to the female proprietors. He also was in jail many times after 1877, each stay costing $40 a day.
The sheriff became his personal guardian, guardian over his holdings, his wife and three minor children born after the 1870 census. Early in 1878, the court labeled him, "James Anderson Burns Inebriate" and admitted him to the state insane asylum a few months later. James A. Burns died on 24 June 1879 in the state insane asylum in Austin. His death on the 1880 mortality census gave the cause of death as epileptic seizure.
If it seems like I knocked down that brick wall easily. That is not the case. After James’ death, J. C. Burns administered his estate. John C. Burns, born in 1874, is James and Nancy’s son. He was much too young to be administrator. So who was J. C. Burns?
The ending of this search is appropriate. Once we pass one brick wall, another brick wall appears. Now I must find out what relation J. C. Burns is, if any, to James A. Burns. Now, I begin anew.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.